Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Loyola School of Theology president Fr. Joe Quilongquilong simply sought to let God’s grace work on Rome-based artist Tomas Concepcion, by cultivating his friendship over years despite Tom’s diatribes vs. the Church. In the end, the Good Shepherd found His stray sheep.

Fr. Jose V.C. Quilongquilong,  S.J.,
President of Loyola School of Theology and Rector of Loyola House of Studies
I’m sure many of you readers want to feel good this rainy Saturday night and are raring for stories that will warm your hearts---instead of the fare of endless scams about pork barrel and the conflict in Mindanao that have incessantly been featured in mainstream media. Allow me then to recall an elegant and eloquent event last July 5, 2013 at the Loyola School of Theology (LST).  

It was the installation of our family friend, Rev. Fr. Jose V.C. Quilongquilong, S.J., a native of Medellin, Cebu, as 9th president of LST (inaugurated in 1965), who has also held the concurrent position since 2011 of rector of Loyola House of Studies in the Ateneo de Manila campus.

But lest you readers become fearful that this blog is all about abstract and soaring theology, let me tell you that there’ll be a story to tug at your heartstrings---a conversion to grace where Fr. Joe was instrumental and which, to my mind, embodies the gospel values far more than a stack of theology books can;  It's a true and inspiring narrative of evangelization and mercy which is also a favorite message of Pope Francis.


The LST, billed as “A Jesuit, Filipino and Asian Ecclesiastical Faculty of Theology,” is a major institution involved in the formation of close to 400 students from 20 countries not only in Asia but as far as Europe, Africa and Latin America, and---more importantly--- in the molding of priests here and in Asia.

Because of this raison d’etre, the appointment of LST’s president, duly endorsed by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus to the Vatican, has to be approved by Rome. On May 15, 2013, the feast of “St. Isidore of Madrid, the Farmer,” Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome signed the nearly 50-year old Fr. Quilongquilong’s appointment to LST’s presidency for three years.

Fr. Joe entered the Society of Jesus in May 1983 and made his final vows at the Church of the Gesu in Rome in December 2009. He obtained his Doctorate in Sacred Theology (Spirituality), summa cum laude, from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 2011 where previously he won his Licentiate in the same field, also summa cum laude, in 2001.


Last July 5’s LST ceremony was a twin celebration. First the academic convocation that announced Fr. Joe’s appointment by Jesuit Provincial Antonio F. Moreno, and the turnover of the medallion of office from outgoing prexy Fr. Jose Mario Francisco to Fr. Joe, who delivered his inaugural address in his flowing black office robes, with the LST’s impressive faculty in full attendance in their cap and gown.

Then followed a mass with the community and its guests, with Archbishop of Cebu and outgoing CBCP president Jose Palma as main celebrant, and Archbishop of Manila Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle as homilist. In impressive attendance were no less than 40 bishops who had just finished their annual CBCP conference and carried the best wishes of their colleagues for Fr. Joe.

The reason for Quilongquilong’s popularity may lie in Cebu Archbishop and CBCP President Jose Palma's description of him as the “most diocesan of all the Jesuits” (indeed, included among Fr. Joe’s myriad friends are a good number of Opus Dei priests).


Cardinal Tagle, with his God-given talent for beautifully integrating his homilies according to a given theme, seized on the gospel for that First Friday:  Christ the Good Shepherd who abandons his 99 good sheep in search of one stray sheep---“the central mystery of the God of Love who lays down his life for his sheep.” Tagle admonished Quilongquilong to ensure that all of LST’s tracks would lead to the same objective---“Who is this Love? What does it mean to be loved by this God, the heart of a Shepherd 'wounded' by Love?”

Tagle then teased Fr. Joe about being kind not only to LST students who are doing good, but also to those who “are failing and snoring in class,” warning that this would require “a different kind of love---the Heart of Jesus.” Fr. Joe promised to be kind to the slow ones.   

On the other hand, Archbishop Palma invoked the “Holy Spirit of Wisdom” so that the whole human culture will be steeped in the Gospel. He reminded the attendees that the first-ever Jesuit Pope, Francis (now on his 200th day in office) carries in his Pectoral Cross the image of the Good Shepherd.


Fr. Joe’s inaugural address recalled the “mystical experience” of St. Ignatius beside the river Cardoner in Manresa, Spain, where he stayed for 10 months in March 1522 to mid-February 1523, while recuperating from wounds sustained in war, and how this “mystical experience became the turning point in Ignatius’ spiritual life.” He also dissected the spiritual and cultural values to which LST adheres as a major instrument of the Church in PH and Asia, vowing fidelity to the teachings of the bishops.

But to my mind, nothing illustrates Fr. Joe’s fidelity to gospel values better than his personal crusade for years to win back to Christ a stray soul. I am witness to this.


Our common friend, the late famed Filipino painter-sculptor Tomas Concepcion (a Maranao-an on his mother’s side and younger brother of late PCGG Commissioner Mary Concepcion Bautista, as well as a Presidential Merit Medal awardee by President GMA), based in Rome for over 40 years, had alienated himself from the Church. He lived a bohemian life in his salad days, acting bit roles in Italian films, and though he lived five minutes from the Vatican walls, Tom hadn't been inside San Pietro in years .

In fact, when my husband and I would visit with him in Rome and in his estate in Tarquinia, north of Rome, from time to time, he would spew out acid criticisms of Italian politicians as well as Cardinals, bishops, etc.---except for Pope John Paul II for whom somehow he never lost his regard (Tom was commissioned to carve a life-size statue of JPII that’s now in Guam).

During the 11 years that Fr. Joe Quilongquilong spent in Rome (five years at the Collegio Bellarmino as a full-time student at the Pontifical Gregorian University and six years at the Jesuit Curia, its headquarters in Rome, working directly under the Father General as regional secretary for Asia-Pacific) he became fast friends with Tom. 

From time to time on weekends, the artist would invite Fr. Joe over to lunch in Rome or in Tarquinia where Tom would ramble on, dishing out his usual cynicism toward the Church.


But over the years, after infinite bottles of connoisseur Italian wine to wash down Tom’s delicious pastas, Fr. Joe never lost his patience with his friend. Amid Tom's boring diatribes he also kept on talking about God and His Love. On Tom’s birthday he would celebrate mass in Tarquinia.

A few weeks before Fr. Joe was to finally return to Manila in late 2011, Tom asked him over to Tarquinia for a strange mission: to bless a rather tall, pregnant-looking statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary with a wide square base that he had sculpted, which stood in the garden.

Tom explained to his astounded friend that when he dies he wants his ashes interred in that base beneath Mother Mary. Fr. Joe then began reading the prayers for blessing and suddenly Tom broke out into torrents of tears, utterly disconsolate. He wept for a long while.


I surmise that Tom’s whole life passed in front of him at that moment, and he felt truly sorry for his bitterness toward the Church. At some point he told Fr. Joe that “the Blessed Mother must have loved me all this time.”

In October 2011 my son Conrad, two family friends, Prof. Nena Cruz and Bobby Miralles, and I had a chance to visit with Tom in Tarquinia and he proudly showed us that statue of Mary. But he didn’t tell us of his plan for it.

After Fr. Joe arrived in Manila from Rome later that year, he found a book that Tom had gifted him years back that he had forgotten to even unwrap. It was a copy of Tom’s memoirs, probably published in 2003, titled “Lo Straniero---memorie fra dolce vita e politica.”  This writer had encouraged him to write those memoirs and I even did initial editing.

With the book was an autographed note dated April 4, 2004, that said, “To Fr. Joe---my most understanding guide to a most understanding God.”  It was obvious from those words that all those years the Good Shepherd had been slowly guiding His stray sheep back to the Corral.   

About the middle of 2012, Fr. Joe learned that Tom had died of a heart attack. His ashes are interred in Mama Mary's statue.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Jinggoy drops Senate bombshell. Most revolting of all gory details he revealed was allegation of P50 million payola for each of convicting senators during Corona trial. Why? Because CJ’s trial was supposed to be a grand morality play, a matter of tough individual conscience---yun pala, pera-pera lang. Transactional politics at its worst.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada
I can compare the size of the TV and radio audience across the nation that listened earlier this afternoon to the privilege speech of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada to the audience that sat in rapt attention across the country on that fateful day in May 2012 when the Senate voted to oust Chief Justice Renato Corona.  

Most damaging in Estrada’s nearly 1 1/2 hour speech was the revelation that the administration is so corrupt and prone to bribery (“suhol”) of politicos, and throwing away public funds to pork-hungry members of Congress as though these were going out of style.


It's impossible not to juxtapose the image of wanton spending of public funds on members of Congress, as painted by the opposition senator, against news reports in the recent budget hearings about severe budget cuts---e.g., how this administration has cut down on essential public services to the people, such as the budgets of public hospitals (e.g., charging the poor now for urinalysis and blood chem) and state colleges and universities.

Every detail in Estrada’s speech was revolting. But perhaps, to many people, particularly appalling was his revelation about how the administration, through the Senate finance committee, allegedly gave each senator who voted to convict and oust Corona an extra P50 million each.


The Corona trial was supposed to be a matter of personal and deep-seated, and even agonizing, decision for each senator---a matter of conscience, a modern morality play. But the Estrada revelation about payola makes one feel frightfully sorry for the country because that celebrated trial became a grand money game---pera-pera lang pala.

Estrada waved a supposed “private and confidential letter” from then finance committee chair, now Senate President, Franklin Drilon allegedly stating offer of that kind of money for each conviction vote. Estrada stuffed it right back into his pocket afterwards, but one doesn’t have to be brilliant to realize that he couldn’t afford to lie about this matter.

Either there was a letter from Drilon to each of the convicting senators or there was none, as simple as that---but the former would be the last person to call Jinggoy’s bluff. What amazes no end, however, is how Drilon could have become so confident as to leave evidence of the wanton bribery. 


Estrada went on to reveal how pera-pera lang also played a role in the impeachment of Arroyo Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez (who resigned ahead of certain conviction), in the vote on the sin-tax bill and on the passage of the RH bill.

The allegation of payola recalls the front-page Standard story on the allegation by ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio about a very fat lobby fund for the representatives to vote on the RH bill late last year---which the Palace never denied.  


Don’t get me wrong. I’m not exculpating Jinggoy Estrada from guilt here---he does not succeed in making himself or Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla any less guilty of abusing public funds or disabusing the public mind about their involvement.

What Estrada succeeded in doing today, however, was to drive the last nail on the coffin of the P-Noy administration’s moral claim to daang matuwid. The matter of bribery of the senators damages the administration and will further strengthen the call in the streets for his resignation.   

To be sure, as Estrada’s colleagues and Palace minions are saying now, Jinggoy has destroyed the Senate as an institution with his revelations.  But the Senate has for some time now been a damaged institution, and all Jinggoy did was put an exclamation point to its self-destruction.  


Another point he succeeded in achieving was the conspiracy of “selective justice” among government agencies that should be acting with more judicial detachment and fairness toward the PDAF issue---namely, COA which used select media as its information agent, the DOJ, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the fund-releasing agency, the DBM.

“Selective justice is injustice,” as he rightly observed.  

To begin with, COA’s 450-page special audit report zeroed in only on the Arroyo years 2007-2009 and got stuck there. Despite the promise of Secretary Leila de Lima to release a “second batch” of implicated names ,after the sensationalizing of the case of the three senators there’s not much hope.

Note that this morning’s media carried reports about a conspiracy among Senate President Drilon, the Ombudsman and De Lima to block the appearance of Janet Napoles in the coming Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing.  Luckily committee Chair Teofisto Guingona Jr. raised a howl and Drilon was forced to sign the summons order for Napoles.  


In fact, as Jinggoy pointed out, and as Sen. Francis Escudero stressed during the third Blue Ribbon committee hearing earlier, the COA report cited 82 NGOs of questionable repute to which some P6.2 billion in PDAF funds were channeled by some nine senators and 18 representatives. But COA itself began to canalize reports toward only the eight Napoles NGOs and the three senators.

What happened to the 74 other NGOs and the rest of the PDAF gang?  To PDAF releases in P-Noy years 2010-2013?  

Lamely, De Lima said that DBM refuses to release pertinent documents. Obviously the intention from the beginning was to condemn the three opposition senators to trial by publicity---so that the pork barrel stench is dammed at their level and does not reach presidential allies and the Palace.

But Jinggoy already revealed juicy details in the COA report hitherto undisclosed. There’s the P450 million total in PDAF that Majority Leader Boyet Gonzalez dumped into his district over six years, in addition to cash advances of P276 million and another P263.76 million considered questionable by COA as there were no suppliers for projects. 

Then too, why were only P178 million in pork of prosecution leader Niel Tupas (of the Corona trial) and only P1 million of Rep.Henedina Abad audited? Why were Senators Miriam Santiago, Kiko Pangilinan, Alan Peter Cayetano and Manny Villar, implicated by the COA audit for "irregularities" to the tune of P1.2 billion, not cited. 


More details from Jinggoy: Since 2004 the PDAF was included in COA audits, but how come its special audit report did not disallow even one peso of entry? Neither did it question any of the 79 resident auditors in various offices and agencies of government on the scam? P115.98 billion of PDAF were released in 2007-2009, but how come only P41 billion were audited?

Why this incomplete COA audit? Was it because COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan was spending more time out of the country than doing her job here? According to Estrada, Tan travelled abroad five times in 2010, nine times in 2011, 10 times in 2012 and nine times in 2013.  

Pulido-Tan---a known loyalist and former undersecretary of former GMA Finance Chief Cesar Purisima, who resigned with him and the Hyatt 10 in July 2005 at the height of the “Hello Garci” scandal, and whom he installed in COA in the new Aquino administration---is campaigning hard to become a member of the UN Board of Auditors, a plum job.

Given her dismal performance in COA and how it contributed to the mess this country is in, her candidacy should be resisted by civic-spirited Filipinos.  

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

The President of the nation cannot disappear for nearly a week without any explanation--- as the alternative is to create perception of weakness and incompetence, and harmful vacuum in leadership. Various Presidents used pork barrel for their own ends.

President Aquino welcomes arrivals from Manila
 in newly re-opened Zamboanga City Airport.
President Aquino reminded the nation at a press conference in Zamboanga City last Thursday that “I am both commander-in-chief and the President. Therefore, at the end of the day, everything is my responsibility, so I am very involved---from everything to getting briefed and putting some of my inputs into the security operations.” 

The President’s reminder---and assurance---that he was-- and is---in command in the continuing crisis in Zamboanga City was well and good, for indeed many of us groped for that fact---after he disappeared for nearly a week. As fierce battles raged there and dozens of people were getting killed, hostaged or displaced, and a bus was blown up, the question many people across the nation were asking was, “Who’s in charge?


To be sure, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas was dispatched posthaste to Zambo City soon after fighting broke out last Sept. 9, and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and top Mindanao military and police commanders were there, followed later by AFP Chief General Emmanuel Bautista and PNP Chief Alan Purisima.

Then the President flew into Zambo City last Friday, Sept. 13 and was seen distributing goodies and phone cards to the soldiers. Next morning he was quoted by Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda as rejecting the attempt by Vice President Jejomar Binay to broker a cease-fire with MNLF Chief Nur Misuari, his classmate (seatmate, in fact) at the UP in the mid-‘60s.

 But beyond that, NOTHING WAS HEARD of P-Noy for the next five days.


No one, in fact, seemed to be sure whether P-Noy was really still in Zambo City or he had already flown back to Manila, and as a result, rumors began to fly thick and fast. Some surmised that P-Noy was again having his periodic leave of absence from the workday–world. Others hinted that he was flown secretly to Malaysia to negotiate the exit of Nur Misuari under third-party auspices.

Others thought the Zambo crisis was blown up to cover the fall-out from Kit Tatad’s naughty story about Janet Napoles being in the Palace all morning up to afternoon of Aug. 28, only to return that evening.

Citizens became more apprehensive after two bombings  in Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s Davao City, followed by reports of the captivity of the PNP Chief of Zamboanga himself by the Muslim dissidents. Was the Zambo situation spinning out of control? Will it spill out to other parts of Mindanao? What will happen to the big island?


Adding to the confusion over the Zambo siege (as in other presidential problems such as the presence of Napoles in the Palace) is the fact that Secretary Lacierda simply fumbles all over when having to look for excuses or indulge in lies (kung sa bagay, what an unenviable job he has!).

Lacierda excused the prolonged news black-out on P-Noyby initially saying that security demanded news embargo of his movements. Then, Lacierda said, “there are no planes flying in and out of Zamboanga City and therefore no newspapers. No TV news either.” Hence, the President couldn’t comment on various issues affecting the nation, kuno.

This prompted the Inquirer carabao mascot to say that naman, isn’t the newspaper on line? P-Noy should really get another spokesperson, or make that two, as the once precise and confident Abigail Valte is now also faltering.


Finally, last Thursday, Sept. 19, P-Noy surfaced to become the official welcoming committee for folks flying into or out of Zambo City, as flights  suspended for more than week, paralyzing business in this most important Western Mindanao population center, resumed .

Today a national newspaper featured on front-page a Malacañang hand-out photo showing P-Noy surrounded by top defense and police officials in Zambo City yesterday. The intent was obviously to counter thickening criticisms about his nearly week-long Houdini act. But HARM WAS ALREADY DONE---it created the semblance of weakness and indecisiveness.


What the Palace has to understand is that it cannot resort to the tactic of now- you-see-him, now-you-don’t. The Chief Executive has to be visible AT ALL TIMES, even in the WORST OF CRISES ---or perhaps most of all in such crises.  Such is the steep price of leadership.

The option would be to create a vacuum at the top that could be filled by alternatives, such as the talk now rife about a transition council being pondered on now to take over, as Star columnist Carmen Pedrosa wrote.

Recall that US President George Bush had to be momentarily hijacked by US Secret Service after the 9/11 bombings, but soon enough he emerged with a report to the American people and the world.

Besides, as Star columnist Dick Pascual argues, P-Noy should leave the soldiering in crisis-laden Zamboanga to the professionals.


A friend from my Ateneo Padre Faura days, Manny Valdehuesa of Cagayan de Oro, recently emailed to ask for my comment as to how a congressman’s token pork barrel ballooned to “humongous scale” under former Speaker Jose de Venecia’s watch.  Manny alleged that “Fattening the pork was JDV’s irresistible way of getting everyone to fall in line and join his coalition-building schemes…So that the bloated indecent pork we know today may be Lakas-NUCD’s dubious legacy for our times.”

In answer, I referred to Winnie Monsod's recent column in PDI, where she traced the history of pork barrel from the later years of Cory when she caved in to the clamor of the politicians to include it in the budget, to the present.

Indeed the pork grew as various presidents and Congress chiefs FOUND IT USEFUL FOR THEIR OWN INDIVIDUAL ENDS---especially presidents who were insecure about their tenure, e.g., Cory Aquino over the many coup attempts where she had to lean on Congress for support, and Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who were beset by so much political instability. FVR had the most stable post-EDSA regime, but then, it was quite conceivable that JDV---FVR’s speaker for two House terms and GMA’s speaker for nearly three terms---needed the pork barrel to allow him to claim an unprecedented five terms in the House.


GMA used pork generously to win majority in the 2007 congressional elections and thus escape impeachment. On the other hand, P-Noy appears to have used it to the hilt to achieve two major victories: to impeach his fierce object of hate, Chief Justice Renato Corona in late May 2011, and to pass the RH bill in December 2012.

In fact I strongly suspect that what lured then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and the seven senators in his stable to deliver their anti-Corona votes to P-Noy---a compact that could have been sealed at their dinner in Sen. Loren Legarda's Forbes Park home a few days before the Senate impeachment vote--- was a deadly list JPE might have shown them, containing their respective involvements with Janet Napoles through their pork barrel funds.


I suspect it wasn’t individual bribes to the senators of many millions of pesos in cold cash, as Corona’s lawyers had alleged at some point, that might have cornered their votes for CJ's conviction. For apparently, if we go by COA records on the Napoles scams, the senators had plenty of moolah. It could have been the incriminating evidence of crimes committed with their pork.

Recall that as per Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s admission at the third hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee last week, where whistle-blower Ben-Hur Luy was the witness, her people were already looking into the pork barrel scam since over a year ago. I suspect that by voting time at the Senate Corona trial, COA already had its disastrous special audit report.

As to the Palace’s bribery to secure congressmen's votes for the passage of the RH bill, this was quietly admitted to media by a number of them after they got back from a Palace lunch two weeks before the voting on that bill. The P250 million bribery per solon was denounced by ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio in ace-reporter Christine Herrera’s Standard article, but never denied by Palace.

Hence, Manny Valdehuesa’s observation that "indecent pork may be Lakas-NUCD's dubious legacy" may not be that accurate. Rather, it's the legacy of the entire Congress over the past few decades. 

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

This article, which appears today in Manila Times' front-page, is my tribute to Fr. Pierre Tritz, S.J., whose Erda Foundation is a model of real and meaningful NGO---as opposed to bogus Napoles-type. On his 100th birthday (per Chinese calendar) today, this French-born, Chinese-educated naturalized Pinoy can look back on a life fully lived for marginalized Filipino children. Let's hope all senators and representatives draw inspiration from this genuine model of “a man for others.”

Fr. Pierre Tritz, S.J. 

From the Manila Times:

"100-year-old Fr. Pierre T. Tritz, SJ shows our politicos how to be truly a "man for others' "

By Belinda Olivares Cunanan

Too often these days we Filipinos find ourselves asking, in the light of the hideously indecent pork barrel scams, the same question the late Cerge Remonde asked his guest nearly ten years ago on his TV show: "Is there hope for this country?"

Fr. Pierre Tritz, a French-born naturalized Filipino Jesuit, who was once called by Cory Aquino the "Mother Teresa of the Philippines," answered Cerge without hesitation: "Sure, there is hope." “But,” he also stressed, "we have to develop cooperation among the many people who can afford, so that they can give more attention to those in our midst who are in extreme poverty."

A controversial reality in our present-day society has been the existence of bogus NGOs to which many politicians have channeled billions of pesos in public funds, which ultimately went into their own pockets. But as Tritz argued nearly four decades ago – real and meaningful NGOs can change the lives of people and combat grinding poverty.

And he proved it. As the citation for the St. Ignatius Award by the Ateneo University in 2000 said, “Pierre Tritz just went on and on, and the world has to make way for this man who knew where he was going.”

Fr. Tritz turns 99 years old today, but as folks in China, where he served for 12 years, hold, a human is one-year old at birth; hence Tritz is 100 years old today per the Chinese calendar. It’s a life studded with achievements aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty for the poorest of Filipinos.

In the mid-60’s, Tritz became very disturbed upon reading a published Department of Education study on the alarming rate of school dropouts. It said that of those who started in first grade, 12-15% dropped out in second grade and the dropout rate got bigger in the higher grades (something that persists in our day).

With first volunteer

With his first volunteer, Betty Reyes of the Aristocrat Restaurant family, Tritz began in the late ’60s to persuade families in the Juan Luna Elementary School area in Sampaloc to send their children back to school, offering to shoulder their schooling expenses himself.

In 1974 he organized a “Balik-Paaralan” program with 200 beneficiaries from Tondo. Then, forsaking his teaching activities at the Ateneo de Manila, Araneta University and FEU, he formally organized the Educational Research and Development Assistance (ERDA) Foundation-–an NGO that provides poor preschool and elementary schoolchildren with school uniforms and supplies, as well as social services to their families. 

Tritz clearly saw that while public schools offer free elementary and high school education, the lack of school requisites has caused children from poor families to drop out. He also maintained that if a child is not developed in its early years, “it would be too late.” Thus, long before the law enforcing preschool was passed by Congress, he already set up preschools in poor communities across the country. 

As Dolora Cardeño, ERDA Foundation's executive director, said, it has assisted over half a million students with their schooling.

ERDA Tech a response to industrialization

Fr. Tritz also firmly espoused that the best way to break the cycle of poverty is to provide poor young people with adequate skills, which echoes the consistent thinking of Sen. Ralph Recto. In the early ’90s Tritz began to lament that so many able-bodied youths were idle and out of school, and he wanted them to ride on the country’s growing need for industrial skills.

Fr. Johnny C. Go, SJ.                    Fr. Aristotle C. Dy, S.J. 
Past ERDA President                  Current ERDA President 
In 1992, he established the ERDA Technical and Vocational Secondary School (ERDA Tech) in a depressed area of Pandacan in Manila. Students from poor families, through sponsorships, obtain a free five-year high school education-–as well as special training in a technical skill that would enable them to find gainful employment upon graduation.

ERDA Tech’s current technical courses for its 450 scholars include automotive servicing, machining, electrical installation/maintenance and food technology. On their 5th year they spend 680 hours of in-plant training with private partner companies.

So poor are some of ERDA Tech’s students (too poor to be able to take breakfast everyday) that the school deemed it necessary to undertake a feeding program to help them stay in school. This school year 105 students are on this program.

Partnership between ERDA and Xavier School

Perhaps the best thing that happened to ERDA Tech was the formal adoption of the school, at the Jesuit Provincial’s request, by the Jesuit-run Xavier School in San Juan, following the deceleration of the aging Fr. Tritz from active involvement (he now holds the title of President Emeritus).

Atty. Anthony Charlemagne Yu,
ERDA Chair

Assuming the presidency of ERDA in 2007 was Xavier’s president for 12 years, Fr. Johnny C. Go, SJ, who left earlier this year on a much deserved sabbatical and to complete his doctoral studies. Xavier’s new president, Fr. Aristotle C. Dy, SJ, was also elected president by ERDA, with Atty. Anthony Charlemagne C. Yu as ERDA Chair. 

The partnership between ERDA Tech and Xavier has resulted in the upgrading of facilities and curriculum of the Pandacan school, as well as the injection of new blood into the faculty, led by its first two Xavier-“borrowed” principals, Jane Natividad and currently Peter Marc Magsalin, and a vigorous faculty development program.

Fr. Tritz handing a diploma to an Erda youngster
The synergy between ERDA and Xavier has begun to bear fruit. As Natividad had pointed out, ERDA Tech improved its school standing in the National Achievement Tests where it once ranked 36th, then 23rd and eventually 12th place among the high schools of DepEd’s Manila Division. The school also had its fifth-year (graduating) students in selected specializations undergo TESDA Competency Assessments for two years now, each time with close to 100% passing rates.

But more important, doubtless, is the increasing concern for the poor that the Pandacan school has stirred in the minds and hearts of Xavier parents. Many of them have generously responded in various ways, e.g., scholarships for ERDA Tech students (P32,000 per year), support for its feeding program, donations of basic school equipment as well as out-of-their-closet items. With the Xavier community, its parents brought about a successful fund-raising concert for ERDA Tech students last year. To say farewell to Fr. Johnny Go, they helped raise generous donations to ERDA Tech’s endowment fund.

The school was pleased to note that the topnotcher in the 2012 mechanical engineering board exams, Kenneth del Rosario, began at ERDA Tech. On the other hand, an ERDA-supported child from Iloilo, John Paul Claudio, was appointed by then President Macapagal Arroyo as Child Commissioner of the Children Basic Section of NAPC (National Anti-Poverty Commission), and he was succeeded by an ERDA youth from Tondo, Bernardo Sumaya.

An all-inclusive heart

But so inclusive has been Fr. Tritz’s love for the underprivileged that in past decades he also organized the Albert Schweitzer Association Philippines (ASAP), which assisted poor orphaned and abandoned youths who ran into conflict with the law.

In 1978 he established the Foundation for the Assistance to Hansenites (FAHAN) which helped those afflicted with leprosy to seek treatment and cope with its stigma in society, and provided educational assistance for their children.

ERDA Foundation and ERDA Tech thrive principally on the element of hope – “l'espoir," as Tritz terms it in his native French. Hope – that the children of our streets would one day walk out of the darkness of poverty, despair, ignorance and lack of opportunity, and into the bright light of prosperity, justice and basic human rights – in other words, a fighting chance at survival.

As we in the ERDA family celebrate today the centenary of this wonderful educator and defender of marginalized Filipino children, we are proud to hold him up as a model of a selfless and compassionate human being – amid our terrible breed of politicians who have all but forgotten their oath of public service.

How this French-born Jesuit priest found himself in the Philippines is as interesting as what he has done here since.

Lifelong dream to be a missionary in China

Born in the French region close to the German border, Tritz entered the Jesuit Society at age 19 and in 1936, he began his lifelong dream of becoming a missionary in China, where he was ordained priest in Shanghai in 1947 (his 80th year as a Jesuit will be this Oct 3).

Young Jesuits in the 1930s such as Tritz were inspired by older missionaries like the famed Fr. Matteo Ricci, SJ, who blazed a trail in China. Tritz insisted on being sent there, where he spent most of his Jesuit formation and taught in various schools for 12 years during a most turbulent era for China.

The fall of China to the communists in 1949 caught him while on his tertianship in Europe, and at his superiors’ orders, he arrived in Manila in October 1950 to await – or so he thought – reassignment to China. But he got stuck here. China's loss was the Philippines' gain.

Until advanced age grounded him, Fr. Tritz used to set off on his yearly “begging” trips abroad for ERDA kids. The joke among his staff was that it was hazardous for anyone to sit next to Tritz in a speeding train in Europe – as his compartment-mates usually ended up forking over sums of money or later sending him checks after hearing his story about Filipino children.

French government puzzled about Tritz

To work more effectively, Tritz in 1974 joined 11 foreign-born Jesuits in taking the oath of allegiance as Filipino citizens before President Marcos in Malacañang. As he recounted to this writer with a laugh, the French government couldn't understand why he chose to become a Filipino citizen ---when thousands of Filipinos were renouncing their citizenship abroad!

But years later, the French government apparently forgave him as it twice gave him awards, including the prestigious Officier de la Legion d’ Honneur (2007) for his humanitarian work with Filipino children.

Tritz's inspiring work among the poor has not gone unnoticed, especially abroad. European TV has produced many documentaries on him and various books have been written about him in France.

He has received many awards here, such as the Golden Heart Presidential Award (1993) from President Fidel Ramos, the Aurora Aragon-Quezon Peace Award for Education (1993), the Mother Teresa Award (1998) from the Jaycees and AY Foundation the Congressional Medal of Merit from the Philippine House of Representatives (2004) and a formal Commendation by the Senate of the Philippines (2011). Foreign awards include the highest decoration from the German government, the Bundesverdienstkreuz Award (2004) and the Raoul Follereau Prize (1983) from the French Academy.

After decades of fulfilling his self-appointed mission of rescuing impoverished Pinoy children from the pit of hopelessness, white-haired Fr. Tritz still maintains a ramrod-straight bearing, still enjoys reading newspapers everyday, without need for eyeglasses (!) and yes, he still loves to eat chocolates. He no longer celebrates Mass as he suffers bouts of forgetfulness and at times has to hold on to the altar, but attends mass daily. Fr. Tritz, however, still serves as night chaplain in the Hospital of the Infant Jesus in Sampaloc, Manila, where he remains on call to perform an emergency baptism or bless a critically ill child-patient. 

Truly a man for others to the end.

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